The developers had a field trip! But unfortunately Al couldn’t make it this time, so Pav, Mikey, Chris and myself set off on a mission to learn, although we were lured like moths to a bulb by the free pizza and drinks stated in the event details, we were still keen to get educated about what it takes to work in an Agile team, and why the benefits are so great. So, we attended the Nottingham Agile Meetup, hosted at Capital One’s offices to learn and practice working in an Agile team.
Attracting a crowd of over 100 people, the format of the evening was to first learn what an Agile team is, then implement it into a group activity; build a colony for Mars… out of Lego!
Brilliant! A chance to play with Lego whilst learning the key principles of Agile we thought, well it turned out to be a very thought provoking and entertaining evening.
What did we actually do at the event?
We played with Lego of course! Just joking, as fun as playing with the Lego was, there was a point to it.
As mentioned before, we were first introduced to Agile and discussed its key principles, after that it was time to implement what we had learnt. This was doing by some roleplaying by one of the event organisers, Leigh White, who acted as Product owner of the Mars colony we were challenged to build.
Initially we went through all his requirements in the product backlog stage. This was done by the project owner, Leigh, telling us what features he wanted the colony to have, as well as giving us the builders of the product, a chance to challenge and question him about any concerns we had.
Some important questions raised “What scale do the Lego buildings need to be” and “Can you organize the requirements list in order of importance of which you want most”. This question, was probably the most imperative question we asked, as it allowed us to get a sense of which aspects of the product the owner found most important, thus allowing us to meet his requirements sooner rather than later. All this was part of learning about taking an “Agile approach” to a project.
We had 3 sprints, each lasting 17 minutes to complete the Mars colony. The 17 minutes were split into 5 minutes for planning, 7 minutes for building and a final 5 minutes for review. The 100 strong of us were split into 11 teams of 6-7 where we would work together to build designated aspects of the colony.
After the product backlog stage was complete and we were organised into teams, and moved on to the sprint planning stage, which involved discussion between team members about how we would work together, what strengths we had and how we would approach the building process.
Among our teams we voted a team leader, who was responsible for choosing which of the buildings from the planning board our teams would build.
Everyone’s excitement and eagerness grew stronger and stronger as the bricks were poured out of the boxes onto our tables. The anticipation to build truly was intense.
Construction away! Brick shrapnel flying everywhere, panic among teams arose as the timer was ticking away and the sprint was coming to an end, the first sprint was a struggle as we were all trying to awaken our Lego constructing skills from a time so long ago. The finished products at the end of sprint 1 were then taken to the product owner, team by team, seeking his approval to be placed on the Mars colony table.
We were then given some time to review. To discuss what went well and how we can improve. Who was good at some aspects of building, and who struggled with the certain parts of the task. This was a great time to reflect, and served as a great time to finally formally introduce ourselves.
At this point, sprint 1 was completely over, and we were just about ready to start sprint 2… until Pizza arrived.
Several slices of pizza later, our teams regrouped and began planning for sprint number 2. Essentially, we repeated the same processes from sprint 1 again, only this time, we found ourselves working better as a team; more organisation, we had designated roles, we knew each other’s strengths… or perhaps it was just the pizza satisfying our hunger and refuelling our concentration.
The same goes for sprint number 3, only this time we were really feeling the pressure from the timer and the last sprint coming to an end. It was a Lego mad-house, each team was processing mutated looking buildings, cars, trolleys, rockets utilising pizza boxes for roofs and cans to add structure to buildings at an outstanding rate as the final timer was coming to an end.
A little bonus
As a builder at the event myself, I did construct a military plane, whilst not really being best adapted to the Mars environment and not at all looking futuristic, I did manage to construct a prize winning spitfire inspired Lego plane during the final sprint, which courtesy of the guys from Rebel Recruitment won me a pretty awesome Star Wars themed Lego building kit. You can see the results of the final sprint and the finished Mars Colony below as well as my prize-winning spitfire on the left at the back of the table.
And here’s a bonus picture of me just after getting my prize, happy times! You can view the full photo gallery and learn a little more about the event here.
So what is Agile?
Rather than delivering a final ‘marble palace’ product at the end of development, using Agile, a team would break down a project into smaller chunks and work on that over a period of time (sprint). Each day they would catch up about how they are getting on and what potential roadblocks they have. At the end of each sprint they aim to have a potentially shippable product that has been reviewed by stakeholders/clients. They then have a retrospective and review how the last sprint went and how to improve it, then pick up the next chunk from their product backlog and repeat.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of Agile over conventional team operating methods can be great. Breaking down a project into chunks and ranking them in order of importance and getting those completed first enables a team to get a functional product out to customers sooner. This means they can get feedback faster and a proof of concept. It also means their clients are seeing development progress in front of their eyes instead of getting a whole project after months and months of development only to find out it doesn’t meet their requirements.
We would like to thank Chris who organized the event, Capital one for the great venue and supplying the pizzas and drinks, as well as Rebel Recruitment for the awesome Lego prize.